Saskatchewan

Provincial budget fails to invest enough in climate initiatives: environmentalists

Environmental groups say the most recent provincial budget did not live up to their expectations in terms of creating initiatives for people to buy electric cars or retrofit their homes to be more energy efficient.

Province's climate plan was reflected elsewhere in the budget: Minister of Environment

Two environmental groups are criticizing the provincial government for failing to invest in more climate initiatives. (David Mercado/Reuters)

Environmental groups say there was not nearly enough investment in climate initiatives in the 2019-20 Saskatchewan budget.

That's the view of both the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) and Climate Justice Saskatoon.

Both were hoping to see incentives for people to own electric vehicles and to retrofit their homes to be more energy efficient.

Peter Prebble, SES board member, said the province deserves credit for continuing its Net Metering Program and for signaling investment in wind power.

The Net Metering Program allows customers to generate up to 100 kilowatts of power to decrease their monthly power bills and get credit for the excess power they generate.

Meanwhile, last week's budget included a commitment from SaskPower to "renew its distribution and transmission systems this year, with the goal of achieving a 40 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030."

Prebble said there is "an indication of some improvement" in provincial investment in greenhouse gas emission reduction, but he said there needs to be an effort right across government.

"The big areas of greenhouse gas emission reduction that we need to tackle are in the oil and gas sector, in the agriculture sector, in the transport sector," he said.

"And I'm not seeing significant budget initiatives in those three sectors geared at emission reduction."

Prebble said there is "an indication of some improvement" in provincial investment in greenhouse gas emission reduction. (CBC)

He said the province has come forward with a plan, dubbed Prairie Resilience, that indicates there will be some emission reduction, but he said it isn't deep enough.

"So, in effect, Saskatchewan is not working towards a plan that would in any way align with the Government of Canada's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets," he said.

"Nor does it align with the Paris Agreement and the commitments that Canada has made."

Climate Justice Saskatoon spokesperson Hayley Carlson echoed Prebble's sentiments, and the budget reinforced what her group saw in the province's climate action plan.

"It was rather unsurprising," she said. "I think, in general, our group has really viewed the Saskatchewan government's progress on climate change to be rather lacklustre and I think this budget reflected that."

Carlson said the province communicated to her group during its climate plan consultations last year that there wouldn't be extra funds earmarked for climate change initiatives in the budget, but she said it would be good to see a breakdown of the money devoted to mitigation activities under Prairie Resilience.

"So we really know where they're investing," she said. "Because there's been a lot of announcements made, but not necessarily a lot of tangible logistics laid out for us. So it would be good to see those funds earmarked."

Prebble is also concerned the province spent only $8.4 million of the $16.4 million devoted to climate change in its 2013-14 to 2017-18 budgets — or 51 per cent.

"So this is an area where given the urgency of climate change, one would expect that the government would fully spend the money that was allocated to work on greenhouse gas emission reduction," he said.

"And unfortunately that doesn't appear to be the case."

Climate plan reflected 'elsewhere' in budget: Minister

Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said the budget for the Ministry of Environment's Climate Change and Adaptation branch is up slightly over last year, and is sufficient for the continued roll out of the province's climate plan.

"We had already factored into last year's budget the dollars that we would need to be able to be able to implement the Prairie Resilience plan," he said.

"So this is a lot of the work around the large industrial emitters, the regulations around those emitters, a lot of the modeling and the scientific research that goes into actually putting in place the Prairie Resilience plan."

Duncan said the province's climate plan was reflected elsewhere in the budget, including the regulation of some of the province's heavy emitters under Saskatchewan Environment's environmental protection work, as well as the work of entities such as SaskPower on renewable power.

"It's not just Environment that's responsible for our environmental plan in the province or for Prairie Resilience itself," he said.

"It's involving a number of government entities, a number of government ministries, including Agriculture, Government Relations and others, as well as SaskPower and the other Crowns."

He said the work of developing Prairie Resilience will continue "for the next number of years while we're putting pieces of it into action."

"And certainly a lot of work had been done last year to get the regulations and the legislative changes in place to allow for all this work over this year and in the coming years," he said.

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